By Calvin Palmer
The History Channel’s How The Earth Was Made last night featured Iceland, focusing on the Laki volcanic eruptions of 1783 and the impact they had on the northern hemisphere.
Millions of cubic feet of lava poured out during this volcanic episode but the most devastating effect came from the vast amounts of fluorine and sulfur dioxide expelled into the atmosphere. Iceland lost 50 percent of its livestock and the resulting famine killed 25 percent of the island’s population.
The cloud of poisonous gases had far reaching effects, blocking out the sun and causing Europe and North America to experience a colder than usual winter in 1784. The North Sea froze; the Mississippi froze at New Orleans; ice was seen in the Gulf of Mexico; and Japan’s rice harvest failed leading to famine.
All in all a veritable, if brief, climate change occurred.
Needless to say, the program looked at the present conditions in Iceland. A meteorologist pointed out that the glaciers are retreating at a considerable rate. He did not attribute it to global warming but clearly that was the subtext.
When the narrator described a fine balance between fire and ice, this point was amplified by a scientist from University College London who warned of the dire consequences that could occur if the ice melted in Iceland.
The UCL scientist suggested the weight of ice played a part in suppressing volcanic activity and if the ice were to disappear, volcanic activity on the scale of Laki eruption of 1783 would likely increase. He likened the ice to acting like a cork in a champagne bottle.
It all sounded plausible. However, the logic is flawed.
Assuming the thickness of ice was the same in 1783 as it is now, or even thicker since the glaciers are receding, it did not prevent the Laki eruption from occurring. So there goes the champagne cork analogy and the balance between fire and ice.
And if the ice was less in 1783 than it is now, the climate of Iceland must have been considerably warmer at that time, ergo climate change has occurred in the past when carbon dioxide emissions were neglible.
The program was somewhat disingenuous to suggest that melting glaciers caused by global warming, which some believe is solely due to carbon dioxide emissions, equals increased volcanic activity in Iceland and dramatic consequences for the rest of the world.
Iceland’s volcanic activity has less to do with the balance between fire and ice and more to do with its location at the boundary of two tectonic plates and the accompanying fissures in the earth’s crust.
When those tectonic plates shift, as they will, reduced carbon footprints will make not the slightest difference to what transpires.
Environmental conservation and management is one thing; the hysteria being whipped up by the media and politicians over carbon dioxide emissions is quite another and has little do with environmental concern.